My dear Santa Clara,
I write this on the eve of the most consequential vote in recent history. Little did I know when I ran 2 years ago for City Clerk would I have been the Chief Elections Officer of one of the most divisive, money-infused, propaganda-driven elections ever at both the national and local level. Those who know me as an activist before running for office know how opinionated I can be, but as the Chief Elections Officer I’ve tried my best to rewire my psyche to remain neutral, impartial and equitable in my actions and interactions with candidates, their campaigns and the public. In my pursuit of trying to remain neutral, I’ve drastically reduced my posts on social media and rarely spoken publicly except in the context of my official capacity. I was even insulted as being “largely absent during this election”, which in fact I take as a complement, as it meant that I was not the limelight (although some of my actions around enforcement of transparency and election law certainly have been).
I’ve always found it bizarre that a sitting City Clerk would have to campaign for their own seat while trying to serve as the Elections Official, especially as they’d have to remain impartial to all other candidates including their opponents. Of course we all have bias – we’re only human – but I’m fortunate that running unopposed allowed me to focus on carrying out my duties and enforcing the law while not having to campaign at the same time.
After serving as your City Clerk for nearly 2 years and living through this very tough election cycle, I’ve gained new perspectives and reinforced other beliefs that I’ve held. I wrote these quick thoughts down to share with my dear community in the hopes that we can all march forward regardless of the election’s outcome.
Service above self:
Public service is firstly, lastly, and only one thing: serving others. If you are in this for anything else, be it fame, publicity, a stepping stone to higher office or career, financial gain whether openly or discretely, or power, you are in it for all the wrong reasons. There’s an Arabic proverb that says: the leader of the people is their servant. There’s another Arabic proverb that says: the servant of the people is their leader. Despite the subtle difference in the wording there is weight in both of their meanings, and both are equally true.
Politics is real:
I despise the phrase “politics is a full-contact sport” just as much as I despise the phrase “political theater.” Politics impacts real people’s lives in significant ways. It could be the difference between food on someone’s table or sleeping hungry, a roof over one’s head or being out on the street, living in security or going to jail unjustly, or losing a loved one when it could have been avoided. It is not a sport, not a game, and not some theater for amusement or entertainment. Those who play politics as a sport think about how to strategize, scheme, and outplay their opponents with one goal in mind: winning at all costs. Those who play politics as theater amplify the drama, gossip and plot twists and draw amusement at the success of some and the demise of others. Politics is neither sport nor theater. It is about doing what you believe to be right to help everyone achieve equity, justice and opportunities for a better life.
To those that lose (both candidates and their supporters):
Don’t be a sore loser. Losing sucks, no doubt. If it’s any consolation, no matter how many candidates run there can only be one winner – the fact that you or your candidate didn’t get enough votes mathematically means the odds were always against you. But no matter the pain, you should not stop engaging. The sign of a true public servant is that they serve whether or not they are in a position of authority. Look back at all the people that ran, lost and disappeared. Don’t be that person. Keep showing up, keep speaking your truth, keep advocating your ideas, keep organizing around your ideals and don’t stop to ask for permission.
To those that win (specifically the candidates):
Don’t be a sore winner. No matter how much you won by, be it a single vote or a blowout, what you have earned is not a divine right, it is a responsibility and a trust. “With great power comes great responsibility.” Use it with maturity and wisdom. Listen to others as you would have liked to be listened to had you lost. Listening doesn’t mean always agreeing, but never look down on anybody simply because they hold a different viewpoint than you.
To both the winners and losers (candidates and their supporters):
Don’t be too arrogant to admit a mistake. Humble yourself. We are all human. We all make mistakes. A jerk never acknowledges their mistake. A fool will see their mistake but never admit it publicly. A truth-seeker will acknowledge their mistake, admit it publicly, do whatever is in their power to right their wrong and vow to not make the same mistake again willingly. It’s easy to say “I told you so,” but it takes honor and courage to admit you were wrong and work hard to fix it. If you find a truth-seeker trying to right their wrong it’s counter-productive to say “I told you so” or point out that they made a mistake in the first place. Instead, make room for them to fix their mistake, or better yet roll up your sleeves to help them make things better. Throwing stones is destructive. Glass houses and all.
Understand the science of counting:
Tallying the results will take time – in fact the Registrar of Voters doesn’t certify the results for a full 30 days after the election (in fact, in the March primaries they were granted an extension due to COVID). Whatever results you see on election night are just a partial count. There is no such thing as a “come from behind victory” or “they were winning at first, now they’re losing”. By the close of the polls, all ballots submitted are final. The order of which ballots are counted first is inconsequential to the final result. Personally, I would prefer there to be NO reported results until they are final and certified. But in the era of instant gratification (“fast food”, “instant messaging”, “video on-demand”) it can be hard to wait for results. Every vote counts and we need to honor that. No premature victory laps and no concessions will change the final outcome. If someone declares victory but eventually loses the final tally their declaration is meaningless. If someone concedes but eventually wins the tally their concession is likewise meaningless. Nothing you say or do now will change the outcome. Stop speculating and let the counters do the counting.
Don’t stoke the flames:
The world around us is on fire, both figuratively and literally. The election by now is over – don’t agitate the other side, don’t jest, jeer or beat the drums of war. We’ve been inundated with campaigning for years at the national stage, and at the local level our mailboxes have been filled, our airwaves congested, our social media feeds have been nasty, families have been torn apart and longtime friendships have been broken. We’re just sick and tired of it all. Let us all take a collective breather and uncloud our thoughts and brains from this mess.
Finally, we are one community:
In the heat of the moment and in the pursuit of winning, some may have sacrificed their morals and ethics. Some may have even believed the ends justify the means. People you may have admired in the past might have lost your respect. Others may have behaved in ways that positively impacted you and challenged your misconceptions. Undoubtedly, wounds have been made and not all of them will heal. We won’t always get along. We may not even always respect each other. But one fact remains true: we are all neighbors and we all have to live together. We have to find a way to make it work.
Your Elected Santa Clara City Clerk and Chief Elections Officer
Photo caption: Voting with my family in person pre-COVID on March 3, 2020